The Lee Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday, Sept. 5, voted 4-1 to adopt an ordinance amending the Lee County Land Development Code. Those changes include allowing higher buildings to be constructed on Captiva Island and providing a pathway for South Seas Island Resort to request rezoning, which could lead to increased density and higher buildings at the resort.
The building height on the island will go from 28 feet above base flood elevation to 35 feet. That additional footage will allow for a third habitable floor and raise the intensity of use by 50 percent. A third habitable floor also means the Captiva fire department will need $1.6 million in equipment to reach it.
Then, Commissioners on Wednesday, Sept. 6, voted 4-1 to approve the Lee County Comprehensive Land Use Plan amendments, which now go to the state for approval.
“I think this is a mistake,” said Commissioner Kevin Ruane, who was the sole vote against the amendments. “I am certainly not in favor of this by any means.”
The Sanibel and Captiva communities were disappointed with the passing of the changes. More than 13,600 individuals signed a petition opposing the amendments.
“These changes eliminate the roadblocks for future zoning requests by South Seas to ask for additional density,” said Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation CEO James Evans. He also raised other community-wide concerns at Wednesday’s hearing.
“We feel it’s going to have an impact on the environment,” Evans said. “It’s going to have an impact on our evacuation routes. It’s going to have a direct impact and potentially jeopardize the sewer project that Captiva is working on with the City of Sanibel. We also think it’s going to have a direct impact on the water quality in the region.”
Lee County argued these changes are intended to help residents rebuild from Hurricane Ian by relieving build-back constraints, streamlining the county’s building height codes, and making the county more resilient.
Since Captiva does not have a municipal government, it relies on the county’s zoning decisions and comprehensive plan. But the island had special protections for building height and density, as well as an administrative interpretation which applied to South Seas, under the Captiva Community Plan within the Lee Plan.
Captiva also has the Captiva Community Panel, an advisory board to the county. The Panel quickly sounded the alarm when these changes appeared without warning on the June agenda of the Board of County Commissioners. That meeting resulted in the commissioners continuing the hearing to September. In the meantime, the county held three public meetings to give the communities an opportunity for input.
But the amendments were approved as originally presented in June, and could lead to legal action from Captiva.
“The coalition of island organizations which opposed these land use changes will be meeting to discuss next steps and possible legal options,” the Captiva Community Panel said in a statement following Tuesday’s hearing.
“We thank all the island residents, owners, businesses and visitors that gave their support and their voice to these changes,” the Panel said. “We will let (the public) know what comes next soon.”
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